Srinagar: The current unrest in the Kashmir Valley differs from its earlier avatars in one significant way: The demand for azadi, or independence, from India is overwhelming pro-Pakistan sentiment in the region.
As security forces clamped a curfew on all 10 districts across the valley, in anticipation of a mass sit-in at Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar on Monday, a statement by the United Jehad Council, or UJC, a conglomeration of 13 militant groups in Pakistan, said it had “unanimously decided to silence its guns in Kashmir”.
UJC leader Syed Salahuddin, in an interview to a Srinagar-based Urdu news agency, the Kashmir News Service, said that the group had urged the separatist leadership in the valley to limit its agenda to “self-determination and freedom”.
Keeping a watch: Security personnel patrol Lal Chowk in Srinagar during curfew on Sunday. Indefinite curfew was imposed in all 10 districts of Kashmir ahead of a protest march planned for Monday. Photograph: S Irfan/PTI
“We had decided that no active militants will display their guns in public,” said Salahuddin. “The silence of the guns will deny troops any excuse to fire on unarmed protesters.”
The statement came as pro-independence slogans of the last few days gave way to silence in the city on Sunday, broken only by religious songs commemorating Janmashtami, the birthday of the Hindu god Krishna, broadcast from loudspeakers.
For the first time, “the Kashmir movement has been able to come out of the Pakistani frame,” Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said in an interview. “Right now, this movement should not get derailed,” he said. “There is no other option. Even those with guns in their hands, should not interfere with this issue. They should let it be. What they wanted to convey through the gun, is being conveyed peacefully.”
In the light of the fact that the Mirwaiz’s own father was gunned down in 1990, allegedly by pro-Pakistan militants, his call for cleansing politics in Kashmir seemed to indicate that the indigenous Kashmiri movement was asserting itself.
The Kashmiri militant campaign had been in danger of surrendering to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence on the one hand and losing itself in the thousand compromises offered by New Delhi on the other.
The Mirwaiz’s attempt to regain control of the campaign has been strengthened by the popular backlash to the Amarnath shrine board’s attempt to take ownership of hundred acres of land on a pilgrim route in the mountains of Kashmir.
Politics within the Kashmir Valley has meanwhile, taken on a new look. Jamaat-i-Islami chief and pro-Pakistan Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the pro-independence Mirwaiz Farooq, who agreed to unite their separate factions of the Hurriyat in June after being apart for the last five years, say they will now speak in onevoice on all issues relating to Kashmir.
The Mirwaiz said the Indian government needed to demilitarize Kashmir, repeal the special powers Act that allowed security forces to pick up people without arrest warrants, release political prisoners and allow alternative economic routes out of the Kashmir Valley, towards Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and perhaps, even Central Asia.
Geelani insisted that India’s “occupation of Kashmirhas been illegitimate since 1947”, but in an attempt to tone down his pro-Pakistan position, said a “merger with Pakistan could wait, first let us get independence”.
Both seemed keenly aware that if they didn’t speak in unison, they were in danger of being marginalized by the new angry mood in the valley.
Geelani, who has never hesitated in the past to sing paeans of Pakistan, said in an interview that the present struggle was “an indigenous Kashmiri struggle”. Asked why there were Lashkar-e-Taiba flags at several Hurriyat rallies and people chanting Lashkar’s name (“aayi, aayi, Lashkar aayi/they have come, the Lashkar has come”), Geelani waved away the question, saying it was not serious.
The Mirwaiz said he was the first to admit that some provocations were still taking place against security forces, and slogans such as “jeevay, jeevay Pakistan (long live Pakistan)” could be heard on Srinagar’s streets. But, unlike in 1990,“today it is a peaceful agitation,” he said.
“I don’t think there can be a clearer message from Kashmir to New Delhi,” he added. “The Kashmir struggle has to now be seen and delinked from the web of terrorism and militancy. It is a people’s struggle. Yes, militancy was there, but it was never the whole struggle.”
Sunday’s curfew, to control the ease with which the Hurriyat has been able to mobilize supporters (there were about 400,000 people at Friday’s rally at the Idgah grounds), flies in the face of police statements made all week that people will be allowed to protest peacefully.
A police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the curfew had been imposed because the government had received reports that the Kashmiri leadership could be targeted. But, the Mirwaiz said the Hurriyat intended to defy the curfew on Monday and go ahead with its silent protest at Lal Chowk.
“The government is making a big mistake,” the Mirwaiz said. “If we are being threatened, then I can say that the only threats we face are from the instruments of the state.”